“The Money Zone” (the difference between my calculated spread and the actual spread is between 2-6). Games that fall within this tier have hit above 55% on a 350+ game sample. I consider games in this tier to have a statistical advantage in the long run. Since I’ve been running the formula, about half of all games fall within this tier. This is a completely objective calculation that does not account for injuries, roster changes, weather etc. I believe the smartest investment is to make small bets on each one of these games and slowly increase them over time if you are successful. Think of the Money Zone as the 401k of your bankroll.
The Money Zone picks for week 1 are Miami, Detroit, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Washington, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New England.
“Shorestein Says” Picks of the Week: Each week I select between 3-5 of my favorite games and do additional analysis on. I’ve highlighted the “Shorestein Says” picks of the week in yellow. Read below for my in-depth analysis.
Houston @ New England -7: The Patriots have struggled out of the gate over the last several seasons. I expect coach Belichick to make starting fast a point of emphasis in 2018. With all the offseason controversy between Brady, Kraft, and Belichick I think the Patriots have rare value in this matchup with the Texans. This week is a “Money Zone” opportunity for the Patriots. This doesn’t happen very often because the heavy public backing typically inflates the Patriots point spreads. With all the negative press around the team, Tom Brady’s feud with Belichick, and the weak receiving corps the Texans appear to be the trendy pick.
The deficiencies at wide receiver are wildly over rated in my opinion. Aside from having one of the most unstoppable forces in NFL history in Gronk, Brady will utilize the running backs in the passing game. James White may catch 15 balls in this game if Brady hasn’t developed confidence in his other receivers. I expect Hogan to remain as a viable option in addition to the emergence of Philip Dorsett. Bottomline, the offense will be FINE! I’m not afraid of the Texan defense that has surrendered the following against Brady over the last few seasons:
Even in the 1 poor performance by Brady, the Patriots won by 16 and still covered their high spread. I think the real uncertainty should be around Deshaun Watson’s ability to comeback from his knee injury. I think the Texan defense is still full of familiar faces that Brady has lit up in the past.
Finally, I think the Patriots defense will come out and play with fire. They were embarrassed by Foles in the Super Bowl and I would be shocked if they don’t play with a renewed sense of urgency to begin the season. Questions remain in their secondary, but I think the front 7 is much improved. They’ve added a number of pass rushers in Derek Rivers (from injury) and Adrian Clayborn (free agency). I think they should complement Trey Flowers and young Deaderick Wise to really improve their struggling pass defense from a season ago. I like Stephon Gilmore to limit Deandre Hopkins. Gilmore excels when he is designated to matchup against one receiver. I think his weakness comes when he’s asked to play a more complicated defense that involves zones and switching. Aside from Hopkins, I don’t think there is a lot to be fearful of on the Texan offense. The fact that Watson had success against the Patriots last year makes it more difficult to repeat that against Belichick, especially with an entire offseason to prepare.
As a New England native, I rarely bet with the Patriots. But when I do, I have had great success. The two games I played the Patriots last year were both blowout victories @ New Orleans and against Oakland. I also have a great track record when going against the Patriots and I really don’t think this is one of those weeks.
Washington +0 @ Arizona: I don’t anticipate a lot to change for Washington with Alex Smith replacing Kirk Cousins. I think Smith probably has a lower ceiling, but also has a higher floor. Smith was excellent in Kansas City when he pushed the ball down the field during the first half of the season, but in Andy Reid’s offense things got more conservative down the stretch.
Washington was decimated by injuries on the offensive line in 2017. To start 2018, both tackles Morgan Moses and Trent Williams should be ready to go to counter the talented Arizona defensive line. Much was made of the rookie running back Guice’s injury, but i think Chris Thompson will be the guy that makes this offense explosive in the passing game from the RB position. Look for Chris Thompson to be a factor to mitigate the pass rush early on. I think he’s one of the more under rated backs in the NFL, and I love what he can do as a receiver.
On defense, Washington has the talent to make Sam Bradford’s afternoon miserable. Rookie Deron Payne possesses Fletcher Cox-like ability to push the pocket. I think pairing him alongside Ryan Kerrigan will significantly improve their pass defense which was actually above average a year ago as evidenced by the numbers below:
Starting an old, fragile Sam Bradford is a recipe for disaster especially when paired with one of the worst lines in football (PFF ranking is 27th). I think Bradford is terrible when pressured. Too often, I’ve seen his deer in the headlights look. Bradford has played just 31 games since 2015, and in those games he has been sacked 70 times. I went back and looked at 2016 and saw 3 games where he was intensely pressured, and the results are as you would expect.
I think the Cardinals will have trouble moving the ball, especially if they face early adversity. Larry Fitzgerald is still the only weapon at receiver and that should actually be a favorable matchup for Josh Norman given his advanced age. Outside of Norman, the Redskins are young in the secondary, but I’m not sure Bradford will have the time to exploit it. If Washington can at least slow down David Johnson, they should have enough to get the early season road victory.
NY Jets @ Detroit -6.5: I have high hopes for the Detroit Lions in 2018. I expect Matthew Stafford to remain as an elite quarterback, and the Detroit offense to be one of the most explosive in the NFL. In the offseason, I posted this chart which outlines how surprisingly good Stafford has been over the past 3 years:
He’s neck and neck with the 2 consensus best quarterbacks in the NFL. I love the Lions at home. Last season, they were an offensive juggernaut scoring 27 points per game (6th in NFL) and at 103.7 Stafford was 4th in home passer rating. The Lions absolutely smashed poor competition in their home games last season. This is evidenced in the chart below:
While the Jets probably have a bright future, I don’t think they will be ready to contend this season. It’s looking like Sam Darnold will make his first start of his career, and I don’t think he can keep up the scoring with this high octane Lion offense. The Jets were one of the best teams ATS at home last season, but they had major problems on the road:
I can’t see a rookie QB carrying that burden. I fully expect the Lions to score into the 30’s, and I’d be surprised if the Darnold-led Jets get into the 20’s. The -6.5 spread might seem high for the untrained eye, but I think the Lions should cruise to a double-digit victory.
Cincinnati +3 @ Indy: Another week, another Money Zone appearance for the Cincinnati Bengals. Last year, they struggled in the win/loss column, but they were actually quite productive against the spread (9-7). Their performance as an underdog was even more impressive at 6-3. But like usual, their lack of discipline and coaching led to actual losses on the field.
I’m more interested in fading the Colts as a favorite. Andrew Luck is back, but is that actually a good thing? Here’s a sample of his statistics over his last 22 games played:
Those should be alarming numbers for a team that has holes across its entire roster, and is starting a turnover happy QB that hasn’t played in ages. Cincinnati was ranked in the top 10 in Sack percentage, and 13th in passer rating defense which should prove to be problematic to one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The returning talent in the defensive front remains for the Bengals. To think that Luck can single handedly overcome the talent deficiencies on both sides of the ball seems unrealistic.
While George Iloka is a loss in the Bengals secondary, I think they have actually made a huge upgrade at corner from where they started last season. Young William Jackson was outstanding in the second half of 2017. Jackson posted one of the lowest opposing QB ratings when targeted in the NFL, and this includes his matchups with Antonio Brown. Defensively, the Bengals remain who they’ve always been; A unit that’s loaded with talent but lacking in discipline. This week, I think it’s enough to get the cover against an Indy team that hasn’t proven anything on either side of the ball since 2015.
I’m seeing most books posting this line at +3, but I expect sharp money to bring it down to 2.5. I would make the play at +3 while it is available.
Random Thoughts from Around the League:
- If you’ve read my “Rams Season Preview” you know how strongly I feel that their collapse is imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders gave them a real scare, but I’m avoiding this game for now….. Also, there’s no chance I’m staying up till 2am to watch Lol!
- I think Minnesota is probably the most balanced team in the NFL coming into the season. I want to see how they recover from their devastating playoff loss before I make any decisions with them. Also, I’m still not buying the Jimmy Garoppolo hype but I’m sitting this one out too.
- I think Denver’s D makes a strong return this year. Love the pairing of Chubb/Miller. I’ll just enjoy this game as a fan.
- Leaning Pittsburgh, but no strong opinion either way.
- Chicago looks disrespected at +8 against a team that is less than mediocre without Rodgers……. But Rodgers IS playing.
- I’m bullish on the Ravens to start the year, but I’ve never liked playing them as a heavy favorite.
- Dallas/Carolina should be an old-school ugly, physical game. It seems like a game Carolina has a knack for winning late.
- I want to see Mahomes play for the Chiefs before I figure this team out….. For anyone thinking of making a play on the Chargers, Philip Rivers has lost 8 straight games to the Chiefs and has played poorly in just about all of them…..
- Philly had a dream season last year. If Wentz isn’t ready, I expect Foles to be more like the real Nick Foles, not whoever played in the Super Bowl last year….